Seven times in the last four seasons, cornerback Jalen Ramsey shadowed receiver DeAndre Hopkins in one of the NFL’s premiere matchups.
After the Jacksonville Jaguars traded him out of the AFC South to the Rams last October, Ramsey thought his duels with Hopkins might end for a while. But in March, when the Houston Texans traded Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals, it was game on again in the NFC West.
“I follow him during the games,” Ramsey joked Friday, “he followed me to the division.”
On Sunday, Ramsey and Hopkins will renew their respectful rivalry when the Rams (7-4) play the Cardinals (6-5) at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
It’s the latest, and perhaps toughest, assignment for Ramsey, the highest-paid cornerback in NFL history.
Ramsey described the 6-foot-1, 212-pound Hopkins, also a four-time Pro Bowl selection, as “one of the best, if not the best in the league.”
Hopkins, 28, has 77 catches for 967 yards and four touchdowns in an offense that also features quarterback Kyler Murray, receiver Larry Fitzgerald and running back Kenyan Drake. The Cardinals rank second in the NFL in total offense, averaging 403.7 yards per game.
On Nov. 15, Hopkins made one of the plays of the season when he outleaped three Buffalo Bills defenders and caught a 43-yard touchdown pass from Murray with two seconds left to give the Cardinals a 32-30 victory.
“When Kyler needs a play, he feels confident in finding DeAndre,” Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “It's just going to get better, their relationship.
“But you see where we were at offensively last year and you add him, we've definitely made some big strides.”
Ramsey, 26, recalled monitoring offseason moves in the NFL last spring. When the Texans traded Hopkins to the Cardinals, Ramsey said he had two reactions.
First, he “felt bad” for Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, a friend who is also represented by agent David Mulugheta.
“And I was just, mentally I had to get my mind right again, you know what I mean?” Ramsey said. “Those battles are always fun, to be honest with you, whether I felt like I won or lost the matchup.”
Hopkins caught three touchdown passes in the seven games he played against the Jaguars with Ramsey in the lineup. In 2018, Hopkins was targeted 16 times and caught 12 passes for 147 yards. But that is the only time he eclipsed 100 yards. He had 80 yards or more three times.
Ramsey intercepted one pass and broke up 11.
“We both have grown and developed our skill set,” Ramsey said. “Each time you get a handle on some things and you catch on to some things. It’s what he’s done and it’s what I’ve done as well.”
The Rams are coming off a 23-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers, a game in which Ramsey was limited to 50 of 72 snaps because of a hip issue.
Asked Friday about his hip, Ramsey said, “I’m all good.”
He is looking forward to another matchup with Hopkins.
“We have a lot of respect for each other,” Ramsey said, “but when it’s time to play, when it’s time to buckle our chinstraps and go make plays for our team, we’re both not going to hold nothing back.”
Defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day (hip) was limited and is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. ... Outside linebacker Obo Okoronkwo (elbow) is expected to be activated to the roster and play against the Cardinals. ... Outside linebacker Jachai Polite cleared waivers and was re-signed to the practice squad…. After practicing at SoFi Stadium on Thursday, the Rams returned to their Thousand Oaks facility for a Fridayworkout.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.